Sony Xperia XA review

Does XA beat the XZ?

Sony Xperia XA

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  • No sign of the 23MP Sony lens of previous flagships
  • HDR doesn't work as well as on competitor's phones
  • Selfie shots are great with a 13MP sensor

The camera is one area where the Sony Xperia XA should, in theory, be able to claim an edge. Sony makes some of the best phone camera sensors, and sure enough the Sony Xperia XA has a new breed of entry-level-slash-lower-mid range hardware.

Sony hasn't talked too much about the exact sensor used, but the spec suggests it's almost certainly the new Sony IMX258. You get 13 megapixels, 1/3-inch of sensor area and phase detection hybrid focusing.

It's the last bit you don't get in phones like the Motorola Moto G4, which uses the 'classic' IMX214.

Sony Xperia XA review

In practice the Sony Xperia XA camera is not something to get too excited about. While a reasonable performer, it sets no standards and isn't the most fun phone camera to use at the price.

Let's start with the bits I find annoying. First, the phase detection doesn't seem to help at all. Focusing is lazy at times, resulting in frustrating waits in low-light conditions. Low-light photo quality is also poor, with images ending up incredibly soft in an attempt to make them appear low on noise.

I can get on board with using plenty of processing to improve the appearance of photos, it's what all phones rely on, but here they can make night shots look as though they've been shot through a layer of Vaseline.

Sony Xperia XA review

HDR performance also continues to lag far behind the best. Samsung's still probably the master of this area, but even the Moto G4 and mid-cost Huawei/Honor phones perform well these days.

However, the Sony Xperia XA still struggles to bring out foreground detail when a scene is strongly backlit. It may have the latest hardware and even a physical camera button, but in terms of software and processing the phone feels dated.

The Sony Xperia XA camera app makes some tweaks for 2016, but the layout is ultimately the same as it has been for years. There's a Superior Auto mode that leaves you to simply point and shoot, and a Manual mode that is effectively a normal camera app that lets you access additional scene modes and some manual controls.

Sony Xperia XA review

Superior Auto mode will do the trick for most people, but this isn't really the most intuitive way to lay out the Xperia XA's photo features when there's also a whole extra swathe of other modes kept in another part of the app. It's overcomplicated.

If you've used an Xperia before you know the drill. These extras modes include silly AR scenes and face-distorting nonsense. However, as in so many other areas Sony has been left behind: apps like Snapchat do this fun camera fluff much better.

Sony Xperia XA review

The Sony Xperia XA has a camera that doesn't do well in low-light, can be a little slow to use in certain conditions and has finicky software. However, other than that it's perfectly fine. Image quality in daylight is good, exposure is good at making sure highlights aren't blown out and while the phone shoots 9MP images as standard (as the sensor is not 16:9), you get a good amount of detail.

Native dynamic range may be slightly higher than the Moto G4's camera, as Sony appears to claim, but that's moot when it has worse software dynamic range enhancement.

The Sony Xperia XA's front camera is pretty sound, and unusual in some respects. It's an 8MP sensor, which is common enough, but has autofocus. A lot of selfie cameras have a fixed-focus lens, under the notion that you're probably going to hold the phone at arm's length and point it at yourself.

Selfie image quality is decent. Some shots end up with too much contrast and detail retention isn't anything like that of the Nexus 6P, but it can sit happily enough alongside other mid-range phones.

Camera samples

Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.